London-based architecture practice mossessian & partners has been selected as the winner of an international design competition for an urban renewal project in the heart of Fez, Morocco. Close to 1,400 architects registered and 175 projects were submitted to the jury at the end of the first stage. The authors of the eight projects showing the greatest development potential were selected to compete in the second phase. Beating off stiff competition from Ferretti-Marcelloni and Moxon Architects who took second and third place respectively, mossessian & partners will work in collaboration with local architecture firm Yassir Khalil Studio.
Twenty years ago Fez was recognised as an official UNESCO World Heritage site and continues to hold the title of the world’s oldest and largest Medina, however funding from the USA’s Millennium Challenge Corporation has ensured that the important aging architecture can be sensitively restored. The project will span the site of Place Lalla Yeddouna (approximately 7,400 sq m) and will form a key part of the $697.5m MCA-Morocco Program which looks to reduce the high levels of poverty in Morocco by stimulating economic growth in the region.
The brief set for the project stipulated that the final concept must restore the Medina’s historical references while employing contemporary design techniques to stimulate fresh interest in the region. The initiators of the project explain: “In the future, Place Lalla Yeddouna will become a dynamic, mixed use, urban space that will benefit both residents of and visitors to the Medina. It will offer educational programmes, residences, artisan workshops, boutiques, cafes and other recreational facilities, attracting young and old alike.”
Arranged on the banks of the main river in Fez, Oued Al Jawahir, Place Lalla Yeddouna is formed of modest residences of neutral hue connected by a complex network of narrow passageways and historic streets. Formerly a key communication and transport hub, Oued Al Jawahir is now vastly underutilised and the urban developments on its banks have become disengaged from one another. The winning concept from mossessian & partners looks to reconnect these urban spaces and reintroduce the area to the riverfront with a new pedestrian route across the waterway and through the Medina.
This project is not limited to the restoration of historical buildings but also enables the practice to create additional properties, providing an additional dimension to the World Heritage site. Largely inspired by traditional Islamic architectural concepts, mossessian & partners’ winning design references local pattern, geometry and repetition with vibrantly toned tiles created by local artisans. These aesthetically pleasing tiles will also act as navigational tools, whilst traditional environmental strategies such as wind, shade and mass will be employed for natural ventilation.
Michel Mossessian, Principal of mossessian & partners comments: "The key thing is to respect the spaces between buildings, since these are where the action happens; so Place Lalla is the perfect starting point for regenerating the life of Fez's Medina."